We’re just getting started
Almost two years ago, we made history as the first all-black team to row across any ocean and the first all-female team from the Caribbean to row the Atlantic ocean. In a time of 47 days, 8 hours and 25 minutes we crossed over 3000 miles. Our route took us past the Trans Atlantic Slave Route as we journeyed to our island home of Antigua and Barbuda. As we did, we were mindful of our ancestors who had made that treacherous journey centuries ago, shackled in chains. For us, as Team Antigua Island Girls, this was our chance to not only pay homage to our dark past but to take control of our narrative and be a beacon to others. Ocean rowing, like many other adventure sports, is Caucasian-dominated and we wanted to show that four black women, from a small Caribbean island, could hold their own in the adventure sphere.
Out at sea
Our team is comprised of 5 members with 4 of us completing the row: Kevinia Francis, the captain, is a fitness instructor; Samara Emmanuel, is a boat captain; Elvira Bell, is a flight dispatcher; Christal Clashing is an adventure guide, and Junella King was our alternate in case something happened to one of us prior to starting the row. Neither of us had ever rowed before so the nine months leading up to the race start in the Canary Islands, was a crash course in rowing, ocean navigation and fundraising. Luckily, we had the assistance of a management team and training from the two previous all-male Antiguan rowing teams. On the waters of the Atlantic ocean, we experienced seasickness, miscalibrated compasses, failed autopilot for steering the boat, confusing winds and opposing currents. All of which led to us being behind our target pace of getting home in 5 weeks. As a result, we ran out of our favourite snacks, experienced a near-capsize from a rogue wave in the pitch black of night and found ourselves challenging each other on our individual shifts to see who could row as many miles as possible in our 2-hour shifts to get as home as quickly as possible.
We also encountered night rainbows, brilliant constellations, several pods of dolphins and even celebrated Samara’s birthday with a makeshift chocolate cake with a lone candle in the centre for her to pretend to blow out. Each of us faced tough moments and that was when we had to lean on each other’s strengths to make it through the day, the week or even a single shift.
Our impact on land
Upon our return from 7 weeks out at sea, we realised something we hadn’t really considered before. As national icons, we had managed to unite our island nation at a time when we were still reeling from the after-effects of Hurricane Irma. We had brought our people together in celebration - the way the West Indies Cricket Team used to in their glory days. Today, in the era of the Black Lives Matter movement, our story is even more relevant. Where boundaries are made to be broken, glass ceilings to be shattered and status quos are to be questioned, we, as Team Antigua Island Girls haven’t finished our story.
Our rowing wellness adventure
While training on the River Thames in England in preparation for our row, we spoke about bringing coastal rowing boats to Antigua and Barbuda. Coastal rowing boats, being different from the ocean rowing boats that we crossed the Atlantic in, more resemble the traditional river rowing boats but are more suited for our Caribbean waters. Therefore, when an opportunity presented itself for us to pitch our ideas as a business, we adapted our plans and came up with the Team Antigua Island Girls “Rowing Wellness Adventure”. Our concept of a rowing tour as a tourism product with ocean education and beach clean-ups won the attention of an Antigua and Barbuda based chapter of the United Nations Office of Projects Services Global Innovation Center. As a result, we are currently an incubated start-up under the Antigua and Barbuda Science and Innovation Park, where we are developing our business plans and are currently pitching our business to a range of start-up investors.
Our take on environmental responsibility
Not only are we seeking to add to Antigua and Barbuda’s tourism product but we are doing so with a strong focus on environmental responsibility. Integrated into our rowing tours around our stunning waters are beach clean-ups and ocean education, fostering an understanding of the relationship between the two. That not only brings awareness to our pressing environmental challenges but allows our guests to help take direct action. Disposal of plastics is a serious issue worldwide and Caribbean countries such as Antigua and Barbuda, don’t have the infrastructure to upcycle our plastics into truly marketable products. That’s where we as Team Antigua Island Girls, are seeking organisational partnerships that can facilitate the collection and disposal of plastics for innovative purposes.
Female empowerment as our social charge
Even before leaving the shores of Antigua to start the transAtlantic race in the Canary Islands, we knew that we wanted to help women and girls in a real way. Apart from the girls home, we were raising funds for, The Cottage of Hope, we also decided to form our own charity - ‘Team Island Girls’. Already we have started fundraising for our newly formed charity through a golf tournament co-hosted with the legendary cricketer, Sir Vivian Richards, and through a local obstacle race and “Fit Party” led by our captain Kevinia Francis. Additionally, a portion of the profits from our business activities will help fund our charity so that we can take our message of female and youth empowerment into the local and regional community.
Crew on rock Newmans Show